Elites were really hard to deal with. We were just fighting him for a few minutes but I already felt exhausted. He could utilize his skill as well as the Black Dimension efficiently even while facing three opponents. 'Behind you!' I alerted as I felt the opening of the Black Dimension near Kana. Takeshi appeared a split second after I warned her, his sword already at her neck, but she maneuvered swiftly and got away from him with just a graze. Meanwhile, Ariel was having a hard time keeping up with us. He was breathing heavily after continuously attacking Takeshi with his explosives. However, he successfully evaded critical injuries by using the Black Dimension as his escape and ambush routes. "This suit is slowing me down," he muttered and I was confused by what he meant. He was just wearing black shirt, jeans and cap, and I wasn't sure if that was the suit he was talking about. “Continue engaging him,” Hayate said. “We’re going to seal his exit routes.” “Got it,” I replied even though I was already breathless. I could feel the presence of the Black Dimension lingering everywhere. It was getting harder to focus but I had to, or else, the three of us would end up dead. The three of us continued attacking him and I also served as their eyes, warning them of his presence and where would he appear. With the night getting deep, it would be beneficial for him to move and incorporate Black Dimension to his ambush and attacks. I let out a sigh, thinking about how we could turn this to our advantage, when I felt a bone-chilling sensation behind me. The next thing I knew, I was already holding my neck that almost got decapitated by him. “Quick reflex,” he muttered as my blood dripped from the edge of his sword. I felt the stinging pain from the cut I received from him and if it hadn’t for my reflex, my head would be rolling on the ground right now. My head was still buzzing but Takeshi’s sudden scream made me alert. Looking at him, a sickle was already protruding on his left arm. “Too slow,” Kana said and Takeshi roared in pain when she pulled it out of him. His blood splattered on the ground as Kana stepped back. I didn’t even detect her presence and it felt like she was keeping herself as small and invisible as possible to maximize her attacks. “Damn brat!” he bellowed but before he could attack, the ground where he was standing blew up. The impact was so strong that I got thrown away from my position even though I was several meters away from it. Kana and Ariel landed harshly beside me and they both groaned as they tried to stand up. “You should’ve told us first if there are any explosives in the vicinity, you humdrum,” Kana growled as she glared at Ariel who was still in his knees. He was slow to get up but what happened next made us silent. “That was the point,” he snickered as his face melted, a puddle of sticky liquid pooling the ground. “H-how . . .” “That’s why . . .” Amidst the chaos from the explosion, Kana and I were silent for a few seconds, just staring at Ariel after what happened. That was why the intelligence agencies couldn’t get a hold of him. He wasn’t just elusive. “I wasn’t planning on revealing this at all, but it will take everything to bring him down,” he muttered as his voice turned thinner while removing a device around his neck. “You have outwitted the CIA and FBI, as well as the Shinigamis,” I remarked. He smiled at me but his eyes reflected misery. “I had to survive.” For the past few years, Ariel Andrada’s image has always been a middle-aged muscular man. He was seen on cameras and recordings a couple of times and those became leads for the intelligence agencies to his current location. They didn’t know it was a carefully planned trick. He had created a façade, an illusion that he was, indeed, still the same person but was too elusive for them to catch even though he left traces. Little did they know, he had already became someone else. And tonight, we saw his real appearance. “Why . . .” Napatingin ako kay Kana. Her eyes were filled with tears yet she was also enraged. Her whole body was trembling and Ariel looked like he just realized something. “This face must have been familiar. You—” “Kana!” Everything went so fast that my instinct just took over me. Kana attacked him and I had no choice but to go against her. My dagger and her sickle clanged against each other as I protected Ariel. “Kana, please calm down,” I pleaded. “How can I?! That face . . . that was my mother’s! How could you use—!” “I see. You’re from that village,” he said as he faced the direction where Takeshi got thrown off. “I’m sorry for using her face. I had to survive. Don’t worry, the end is near. You won’t see this face after this.” Ariel started walking toward Takeshi’s direction but stopped midway. “I got a plan. Will you assist me?” he asked while looking at me. Glancing at Kana, I was quite worried about what could happen but she looked less agitated compared a while ago. She must have been holding back her emotions and trying to be rational as possible. Looking at the both of them, I felt sorry that they had to go through this. “We will,” I replied and he gave me a quick smile in return. “Thank you . . . for lending me your power.” *** I didn’t exactly know the whole plan but Kana and I had only one job: attack and tire Takeshi until we seal his movements. Hayate told me to give my earpiece to Ariel to incorporate their plan to his. With those three, I think we have a chance of capturing an Elite like him. With Kana’s offensive strength and speed, combined with my directions and close-combat attacks, we relentlessly charged at him. The Black Dimension proved to be a pain in the ass but I was getting used to its sensation that it was easier to know where and when he would appear. There were times when he tried to drag us inside it and I almost passed out when my arm went through it but Kana helped me survive. And I did the same thing to her. My whole body hurt and it felt like I couldn’t move anymore but every time he screamed in pain and got wounded, a surge of energy would course through my blood, as if giving me additional strength to continue. As if saying that our attacks were effective, that he was getting tired. “No!” he bellowed as my dagger grazed his cheek. “I’ve had enough of your silly plays!” It was that moment that I was reminded how strong Elites could be. He swung his sword toward my direction as he went out of balance. The blade didn’t even reach me yet I felt a sharp pain on my chest. I collapsed on my knees as a huge cut across my chest drained my remaining energy. “D-damn it . . .” My eyes were spinning and my body felt like burning. Kana was shouting something but I couldn’t hear it well. I tried sharpening my senses even more to see what was happening even though I was close to losing consciousness. Going toe-to-toe with an Elite would be suicide but Kana was doing exactly that. She went directly to him as their weapons clashed against each other. “You have the audacity to fight an Elite?” he mocked and I could feel the pressure from his words and presence even from my position. She wouldn’t stand a chance. “The likes of you will never win! Your head will—!” “Now!” she suddenly yelled. From a tree nearby, Hayate appeared and jumped off it, catching Takeshi off-guard for a second. However, he was not holding any weapon. He continued charging at Takeshi without anything to attack with and the Shinigami knew he could take both of them. “You have to do better than that, brat—!” All of a sudden, Hayate wounded his palm with a sharp rock and a helmet-shaped thing appeared on his hand. Realization hit me and I understood a part of their plan. On the other hand, that move must have confused Takeshi but he was already too late to realize what was happening. Hayate succeeded on putting the headgear on Takeshi’s head but Kana and him weren’t able to escape his last swing. I remembered that headgear. It was the device that almost drove me insane when I was a child. And just as expected, an Elite was as susceptible as us from its effects. He screamed so loud that it felt like my eardrums got shattered. He lost his control over his body and let go of his sword. However, a few seconds later, he was still trying to remove the headgear. His control over his mind was incredible and terrifying at the same time. We were running out of options and the only thing that we could do was attack him while in that state, but Kana, Hayate and I were injured. Just when I was about to tell them I could still fight, Ariel walked toward Takeshi. His expression wasn’t like before. He looked tranquil, as if he already knew the end of this fight. Takeshi was on his knees and somehow, he managed to hold his sword again. I was watching Ariel carefully and I almost yelled his name when he suddenly embraced Takeshi. “It’s okay. Everything will be okay,” he softly said while turning his head to our direction. “Is this your final decision?” Hiroshi asked as he walked toward them. Ariel smiled. “Yes. This is the only way.” ‘What’s happening?’ I asked. ‘Hiroshi!’ Kana was asking the same thing but he remained silent. “Bind us,” Ariel ordered. It took me a while to understand what he meant. Hiroshi’s holographic strings came into view and bound the two. Hayate slowly stood up and once again summoned something—a huge cubic container, large enough to contain both of them . . . and the impact of the explosion. A projection appeared right in front of us and it showed what was happening inside. “Why . . .” My voice faltered as I watched Ariel’s last seconds. “He already made a choice,” Hayate said. “Besides, Takeshi can’t use the Black Dimension with his mind in that state. He won’t be able to escape.” “But . . .” “That was his final wish.” I turned my head, unable to watch the next thing that would happen. “Don’t look away,” Kana suddenly said. I glanced at his direction and she was staring at them with her eyes welling up. “This way, we can honor his fate, his demise.” My heart sank upon hearing that, and even though it was hard, I watched as the explosives on his body blew up. The container wasn’t able to completely contain it and we were also caught by its impact. I was still disoriented when I got up. The smoke was covering the surroundings but I could see the figures in front of me. Kana stood up and walked toward Takeshi, who was with Hayate and Hiroshi. He took most of the damage and his body was burned and tattered. I thought he died but he suddenly tightened his grip on his sword. However, before he could do something, Kana stepped on his hand and targeted his pressure point, making him lose consciousness. “I won’t let you kill yourself,” she muttered. “You need to know the weight of your crimes. You need to pay for them.” “We need to secure him properly and we need to get out of here,” Hayate said. “Shinigamis might show up when they learn about this.” “I agree,” Hiroshi added. Kana’s eyes drifted to the left and I followed. My stomach churned, horrified with what I was seeing. “Ariel!” I shouted as both Kana and I went toward his direction. His left body and left face were burned badly. He has both internal and external bleeding but he was still breathing. Barely. He looked at Kana and weakly smiled at him. “I . . . got my . . . revenge . . .” he said in whispers. “I . . . will . . . finally be . . . with my . . . f-family. S-sorry for what . . . I did . . .” “I can’t forgive you for helping them kill our clan,” Kana said. “But I will honor your death. You have restored your honor.” He smiled again but this time, he already closed his eyes. “If only . . . I have known . . . your clan . . . before those . . . scums . . . if only . . .” “We’re Senshins,” I said. “Erityians aren’t only the Shinigamis. I’m sorry if you’ve been through hell because of them.” “I . . . see . . . t-thank you . . . for telling . . . me . . .” His gaze shifted to Kana again. “And . . . t-thank . . . you . . . for your . . . kindness. Your parents . . . and clan . . . would be so proud . . .” The mention of his parents and clan made the tears that she was trying to hold back, fell. “I know,” she sobbed. “I know.” “It’s . . . okay . . . now,” he mumbled, as if he was convincing himself. “It’s . . . okay . . . now . . . I can . . . rest now . . .” “Yes,” I told him. “You can rest now.” The smile on his face remained as his life withered away. After all the explosions and chaos, the night had gone cold and silent, as if it was mourning for his death, and the wind carried his soul away from hatred, greed and vengeance. Away from this world. His time had finally stopped. And the ticking of her clock had finally come to an end.